WaPo digital revenue drops in Q1

The Washington Post Co. newspaper division continues to struggle, nearly doubling its operating loss with drops in print circulation and advertising — and digital ad sales aren’t picking up the slack.

The division, which includes the Washington Post and Slate, reported an an operating loss of $22.6 million for Q1, compared to an operating loss of $12.8 million in the first quarter of 2011. Increased pension costs and nearly $2 million in separation costs for those laid off or bought out in the first quarter contributed to the increased loss.

Digital revenue slipped 7 percent to $24.2 million for Q1, compared with $26.2 million for the same quarter last year. Online display ad revenue dropped 11 percent year over year while online classified ad revenue for washingtonpost.com was down 1 percent.

WaPo print advertising fell off a cliff — dropping 17 percent with declines across the board, particularly disconcerting because digital can’t pick up the slack. Print circulation dropped nearly 10 percent, falling below a half-million daily to 492,600, while Sunday circulation was down 5 percent to 714,000.

WaPo sells digital replica and e-reader subscriptions but doesn’t charge for online news access — no meter, no paywalls. Company executives continue to insist it won’t start. They may have to reevaluate that stance, not only to bring in online revenue but to shore up print circulation. The New York Times and other papers have used digital access as a value add that helps retain print subscribers.

What about the rest of the company?

Overall, earnings doubled in Q1 but without one-time items would have been lower than last year. The brightest spot: broadcast television revenue was up 13 percent, aided by an increase in political ad revenue. Cable was flat with increases in voice and broadband making up for declining basic video subs; the Kaplan education division, which once carried the company, was down 11 percent. Full details in the release.